It's the Celtic word for "soul friend" and this is the place to talk about Roman Catholicism, Celtic Spirituality, Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton and other great literature, as well as anything else that enriches the human spirit and brings one closer to God.
As he is proclaimed Blessed by Pope Benedict, may we all remember the life of this hero of our faith and his love for the Church. May Blessed John Paul the Great intercede for us and ask God's blessings upon our lives.
READINGS: ACTS 2:42-47; 1 PETER 1:3-9; JOHN 20:19-31
I. Do You Believe In Miracles?
A. O God , where are you? All around us we see the growth of human power and technology. Your commandments are no longer unique and paramount; many belief systems spawn like salmon in the spring. People say all beliefs, all values are equal. Do you care, O God, do you act in our world any more, where have all the miracles gone?
B. We feel those questions in our souls. Even scholars of our own faith question whether the miracles of days gone by ever really happened, whether even Jesus cured the sick, made the lame walk, the dead rise. And then come these naive and simple Scripture readings–the Apostles seeing the Risen Christ, Thomas touching Jesus, the early followers of Christ doing miracles. Do you really believe those things happened? And if then, why not now? Do you believe in miracles?
II. True Belief Comes From The Heart And Gives Power
A. There can be miracles if you believe. And by belief, I mean devotion–belief with the heart, not just with the head; the down deep belief that causes a person to give his heart, his mind, his body, his soul to someone. Devotion to God enables a person to do deeds of power. That’s the message of the Scriptures today. Let me explain. As great as the Parting of the Red Sea was in the Old Testament, the Resurrection of Christ is greater–new life, new freedom was given not just to a people but to all people. We only feel God is absent from our world because like Thomas, we refuse to recognize the deeds of God, the possibility that God can really act in our world, the possibility of miracles. In his unbelief, Thomas seems to us dried up inside, without life, without hope. He is curiously like us–skeptical, afraid to commit to God, secretly wondering whether all this Christian belief system and value system is really true. When a person refuses to really commit to God, to really believe, that person feels God is distant and chances are God will not act in a visible, powerful way in a person’s life. Remember one time when Jesus was back in his hometown–he did not do any miracles there because the people had no faith in him.
B. Compare Doubting Thomas with those early Christians we heard about in the first reading. They served each other, they prayed, they had Eucharist. Guess what? They DID miracles! In touch with the Risen Christ, they had his power flowing through them. They did his deeds. Now was that true or not?
C. And if they really did those things, can the same happen to us? Of course! It will happen the same way it always happens. From total devotion to the Christ. In the Gospel, Thomas came to believe through touching the Risen Christ. In all the stories about the Resurrection, Jesus brings people to belief through touching them, speaking to them and feeding them. The early Church discovered it could have the same experience of Thomas through the Eucharist.In the Eucharist, we touch Christ, we hear Christ, we allow Christ to feed us. But to really experience the power of God we have to do one thing–we must believe with the heart. We get on Thomas’ case a lot, but once he said, "My Lord and my God!" power flowed through him and he knew God was alive in the world. Because the early Church really felt in touch with Jesus, they really accepted the possibility of doing great deeds. This week, our young people will receive their First Communion–they will actually touch Christ! You will see the power of Jesus moving through them. What a wonderful day! But my worry is that as they grow older, their eyes will dim to the wonder; they will become skeptical; and the awesomeness of the Eucharist will become invisible to them. With no real devotion, they will spiritually starve. Cut off from God, they will not have power. We can’t let that happen. The beauty of Easter must live not only in them but us as well. Our heartfelt devotion to Christ, our ability to touch him in the Eucharist will enable God’s power to act in us. Believe that, because it is true–all the early Christians and the saints to come after, and I have a hunch a lot of you here today know that is true. God works through the person who truly believes.
D. Our faith, our being Catholic, means nothing in this world if we cannot feel the power of Christ and do his deeds. As Christians, we really should be able to do real things because of our faith. We should be able to bring forgiveness and healing to relationships. We should be able to transmit values. We should be able to fight evil and win. We should be able to feel the presence of God in us.
E. All those things come from God, but we have to open the door, like Thomas did. Use this Easter season to let the Risen Christ touch you in the Eucharist, know that it is really Jesus who touches you, and know that there can be miracles if you believe, that you can do deeds of power.
F. Today, Pope John Paul the Great will be declared Blessed. He was a holy, good, and decent man. But he was also a great hero who had the fire of Easter in his belly, and the Holy Spirit in his heart. He was able to do miracles. Can anyone forget how he confronted communism–the whole Iron Curtain fell at his Sign of the Cross. Can anyone forget how he re-energized Catholicism–he made it cool to be Catholic. Can anyone forget his great call–Be Not Afraid!–he said, to open wide the doors to Christ. He was a window through which God’s love shown brightly. He is my example that myh words are true. You can do miracles if you believe. Believe in the Risen Christ, and let him set you free!
I. If You Are So Sure He Is Dead, Why Are You So Afraid?
A. All day Saturday, Jerusalem is quiet. It is the Sabbath. But there is a flurry of activity in the Sandhedrin, the leadership council of the Jewish people, and there is a flurry of activity in Pilate's palace. The religious leaders remember what Jesus had said, that after three days he would rise. They begged Pilate to put a guard around the tomb and Pilate gives permission for the Sanhedrin to use its own Temple guard around the tomb. The soldiers come and even seal the stone cold tomb so that no one can break in and steal the body. There the guards sit; there the guards wait all through the day and through the long night.
B. How strange it is. Fearing that he would rise again, they station soldiers to watch the sepulchre. Who has ever seen the dead placed under watch? Or who has ever seen a dead body treated as an enemy? Who has ever seen one struck by death causing fear to those who have slain him? Who fears his enemy, once he has killed him? Why do you still fear him, you enemies of Jesus; why do you fear him whom you have slain? Why do you still dread him who has gone forth from among the living? Why do you fear the dead? Why do you still fight with one whom you have crucified? His slaughter has made you safe: rest secure. If it is a mere man who has died, he will not rise again. If it is a mere man who has died, then there is no truth in those words of his that he would rise again. If he was a mere man, then death will keep him. If he was a mere man, what need to seal his tomb: is it not useless? Wait till the third day, and you will prove that Jesus was mad. Or will you? It is a foolish thing to wage war against God. Cease to rage against the truth. Cease offering insults to the Sun of justice: thinking you can put out its light. Cease, you enemies of Christ, and do not try to seal up the fountain of life. Do not make more difficulties for yourselves. Do not speak of guards. Do not give money to the soldiers, to say this and not that. Do not set a crowd to watch the tomb. Put not your trust in armor. The Resurrection will not be stopped by force of arms: nor impeded by seals; nor put down by soldiers; nor concealed by bribes. Rather it shall be believed in!
C. Yet why fear what is basically harmless? Why be so hateful of someone dead for 2000 years? As I said before, what can a dead man do? Nothing. Unless he happens to rise again.
II. Fierce Disbelief
A. Within hours after Jesus' death, the enemies of Christ were acting to make sure nothing happened to help the cause of Christ. Amazing isn't it, that those who were so sure they were doing right in destroying Jesus, now feared he might be telling the truth. Those who disbelieved he was God, now feared he might rise.
B. For two thousand years, that fierce disbelief has not changed. Our faith has to deal with some Christian scholars and a lot of prevailing thought that holds that Jesus didn't rise from the dead, that his body was eaten by dogs at the foot of the Cross, that he was not God, or was a vastly overrated teacher, or some such nonsense. All through our culture there is open animosity to Jesus and his values, there is hostility to his Church, there is a belief by even some members of the Church that some of the most important beliefs like Resurrection or Real Presence in the Eucharist are no longer important. Concerning these past three days, so holy to our faith, there have been millions of so-called Christians who have barely given a thought to what this time of year means, and there are millions of others who mock those who do observe these holy days as fools and superstitious throwbacks to a dim and distant age. And there are those who seek to root out every last vestige of Christian thought and expression in our schools and in our public lives. It seems that the enemies of Christ who so feared him even after his death have many descendants today.
III. What Really Happened
A. No one saw the Resurrection. It happened in the still of the night, just before dawn. It was probably better that way, for the aftermath was spectacular enough. There was an earthquake, an angel descended from heaven, grabbed the stone of the tomb, broke the seal, rolled back the stone and sat on it as if it were a throne. The angel's face flashed like lightning, his garments were as white as snow. The guards were paralyzed with fear--and this wasn't even Jesus--this was an angel. Mary Magdalene and another Mary saw all this, and the angel told them not to be afraid, that the Lord had risen--just as he said he would. He showed them where Christ's body had been and then told them to go quickly and tell the apostles. On their way back, Jesus suddenly appeared and they touched him and he spoke to them.
B. Our faith is clear on what happened. Christ rose from the dead, body and soul. No one stole his corpse, no one hid the body, for the soldiers were there. Christ rose from the dead, body and soul. There are no bones of Jesus Christ lying forgotten somewhere in the Holy Land--the tomb was empty because Jesus left it. Christ rose from the dead, body and soul. Here is the crucial point for us. In our day and age, we have dumbed down our faith and what the resurrection really is. We watch Medium and Ghost Whisperer and other shows like that which routinely tell us the afterlife is just like this one only we are invisible. It’s just not that different. And so when we think of Jesus, we sort of think of him in this way, a risen ghost. Yet, his followers lived in a world that had a lively view of life after death–it was mostly the same belief that the secular world has today. So why did Christianity take over this world? Because its view of the afterlife was much more robust and different. Christ’s Resurrection changed the world and turned death backwards. Recall when Jesus dies, the graves of the saints are broken and at his resurrection, they too were seen by many. Belief in Jesus starts eternal life now–not perfectly of course–but it starts now and you only get it if we stay in touch with Jesus. Away from him, we have nothing. The Resurrection of Christ is not some ghostly happening for he appears and can be touched, he speaks as friend to friend. Christ rose from the dead, body and soul. His body is glorified and not bound by time or space--though he can be touched, he appears and disappears at will and clearly is one who has overcome death. We have ceased to be excited over the great difference between Christianity’s view of eternal life and the rest of the world’s, and in our ignorance, we are unconverted and still in the grip of the lies of Satan and death. In the weeks to come, I’ll be pointing out all those great differences; maybe it will help us who sometimes have doubts about our faith and about what Jesus really did.
C. As Paul says, if the Resurrection did not happen, then our faith is foolish. I cannot solve the problem of those who hate Christ, but I can address those of us who have smudged and blurred and rationalized our belief in the Resurrection away. Like St. Augustine spoke to the doubters of his day and age so I say to those of us who may doubt: if by chance there are those who call themselves Christian and believe that Christ is simply a great teacher, a great inspirerer, someone who was powerful enough to live on in the minds of the disciples after death, but you believe that there is no such thing as a true resurrection, put that belief aside and let the Gospel persuade you. Who are you to not believe that a body laid in the tomb could rise again? Listen to Christ: He loves you. Listen to Him speaking: See! He is addressing you, you unhappy one, he is speaking to you! What has troubled you, and why do doubtful thoughts arise in your heart? "See!" He is saying, "Look at my hands and feet. Touch, and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see me to have." The Truth said this: and he was deceiving us? It was body, it was flesh; what had been buried appeared. Let your hesitation end; let it give way to true faith and praise.
D. In this Easter homily, I wanted to focus on what we really believe, and I hope I have done that. Jesus Christ is Risen! He is Truly Risen! is the ancient cry that speaks the truth. Believe it and rejoice, for what we celebrate today is real, and what makes it so close to our heart is that what happened to Christ will happen to us if we remain faithful to him. JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS TRULY RISEN!
A. Ever wonder why Christ was crucified? You've probably heard the standard story about how the Romans killed their prisoners that way. And that story is true. But I want to tell you a truer story, one that has greater meaning, one that will change your life. I want to tell you the tale of two trees.
B. In a Garden, a long time ago, there was a tree. And it was called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And it was a beautiful tree in the most beautiful part of the Garden. There was a man and a woman who took care of the Garden and special care of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They were told by God not to eat of the fruit of the Tree or else they would die. They obeyed that rule for a long time until the devil tempted the woman who ate the fruit and gave it to her husband. Their eyes were opened. They knew good and evil and they knew they had sinned terribly before God. They knew they were in trouble so they hid from God. But God is God, and he found them. He said, "What happens to those who eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?" And they said, "Those who eat, die." And God said, "You were willing to take that risk? Disobeying me was worth that risk? Losing everything I ever gave you was worth that risk?" And the man and woman said nothing. And God said, "Because you have done this, cursed be the ground because of you. You must work to eat and the very earth will fight your efforts. You let loose sin in the world and it will multiply against you. You reached for the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. You hoped to get life but death shall be your bitter fruit. Death shall take you at the last for dust you are and to dust you shall return. Out of my Garden rebellious ones. No longer may you stay." That's what God said.
C. We always think of Adam and Eve weeping as they leave the Garden of Eden, but I am thinking today of how God wept. The arrogance of humanity, to sin against God! And yet, how could God let things stay this way? Adam and Eve reaped death from a Tree that held the secret of eternal life--now God had to fashion another plan. Years later, on a piece of barren ground, dead trunks of trees stood upright on a hill called Skull Place--Golgotha--Calvary. It was the execution ground of the Romans. No beautiful garden of life; only death grew here. And up that hill on a ghastly Friday long ago, stumbled a man with a piece of tree on his shoulder. The soldiers whipped him into place and nailed his hands to the tree, hoisted him up, and nailed his feet to the trunk of that tree. And there he hung on a Tree of Death. But this was no ordinary man, no criminal he. This was the Christ of God--Jesus of Nazareth--God's own Son. He had never sinned. He had never rebelled against his Father. He had always done God's will. And now he freely chose to die--to die for all people. And God saw. God saw his Son did not deserve death. God saw his Son was innocent. God saw his Son willing to die for all humanity to save them from their sin, from the power of evil, from death. And when Jesus cried from that Cross, "It is finished!" what was ended was the long reign of sin and death, what was ended was our exile from the Garden, what was ended was our separation from God. For this Tree of Death was watered with the blood of God's only Son. This Cross, this tree, became the instrument of our salvation. Did you know that there is a legend that the wood of the Cross came from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? The Tree of Death becomes a Tree of Life. Did you know that in some pictures of the Crucifixion you will see a tiny skull at the base of the Cross? The reason why the hill was called Calvary--Skull Place--is because it was believed to be the burial place of Adam. Whether or not that was true, the symbolism was powerful. On the place where the first Adam suffered the final consequence of his sin, the second Adam, Christ died to give us new life.
II. Tree of Everlasting Life
A. In just a few moments, we will come forward to venerate this Tree of Life. The Cross is worth honoring because it represents how God has brought us back into his life, into his love. When you come forward to reverence this Cross, do not give it the kiss of Judas. Do not just come forward to kiss it or touch it because that's what we do on Good Friday. Honor it for what it represents--our salvation. And make a promise never to betray Christ. Don't reach out to touch it, like Adam and Eve reached out to touch the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They wanted power to be like God. Instead, touch the Cross with humility. Know that it was God who saved us.
B. There is a famous ancient hymn called Crux Fidelis, "Faithful Cross", that is traditionally used on this day. It sums up what I've been trying to say,
Faithful Cross! above all other
One and only noble tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peer may be:
Sweetest wood and sweetest nails,
Sweetest weight is hung on thee.
God in pity saw us fallen.
Shamed and sunk in misery,
When we fell on death by tasting
Fruit of the forbidden tree;
Then another tree was chosen,
Which the world from death should free.
C. This is that wood; this is that tree; this is the Cross on which he died for you and me. This is the Tree of Glory that bore the body of the Savior. This is the tree that set us free. We adore you O Christ and we praise you; because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world!
But the people of Israel feasted with a farewell meal,
Although it was the night.
Judas, hungering for silver, sows the seeds of a friend's betrayal,
But the Lord feasts his disciples with a farewell meal,
Although it is the night.
Pharaoh refused the command of God to let the people go,
And the people of Israel sprinkled the blood of a sacrificed lamb on their doorposts,
Although it was the night.
Satan conspires with men to bring the work of Christ to nothing,
And Christ the Lamb washes the feet of his friends,
"Serve others as I have served you,"
Although it is the night.
Pharaoh saw the Angel of Death strike the first-born of Egypt,
But the blood of the lamb saved the people of Israel,
Although it was the night.
The powers of evil gather against the Lord, who says
"Eat my body. Drink my blood."
Although it is the night.
Pharaoh fell in defeat before the God of Israel on Passover,
And the Hebrews were redeemed by the blood of the lamb,
Although it was the night.
In a time of shadows, darkness rules and reaches for victory,
But God's Lamb gives his body, sheds his blood,
"Do this in remembrance of me," he says.
Although it is the night.
A. Since Holy Week began, I have been fascinated by the number of times the word, "night" or "darkness" has crept into the readings, like a pestilence, like a plague. All the awful, wicked deeds done against our Lord, happened in the night. The betrayal by Judas, the arrest of Christ in the Garden, the mock trial by the Sanhedrin, the denial of Christ by Peter--all these things happened in the night. By the time daylight occurred on Friday, the fate of Jesus was sealed. And yet, even though this was Satan's hour, the hour of darkness and shadows, it is Christ who is in control, Christ who directs his own destiny, Christ who turns the seeming victory of evil into everlasting defeat. For in that night of betrayal and sadness, Christ gives us himself, and tells us that never would we be alone, never should we fear, although it is the night. For when all the powers of evil are against him, Jesus sits down to dinner, and changes our lives.
B. If you are here tonight, then you must enter into what happened so long ago. You should smell the sweat of fear in the disciples, you should be angry at Judas, you should be able to taste the unleavened bread and the red wine of the Passover Meal. If anyone's hearts are not moved by this story, then leave now. Here is no place for the unbeliever; here is no place for the bored Christian, here is no place for those who think the story of the Last Supper is simply a pious tale for this springtime of the year. Down deep, don't you wish you could see Christ in human form? Don't you wish you could touch his garments, see that he really was flesh and blood and walked and talked here on earth? We want so much to see, to touch, to feel his presence.
C. But we do see him, we do touch him, we eat of him. We long to see him in the flesh, but he gives us his very self to us, not merely to see, but to be touched by us, to eat, to be received within us. The Eucharist! Something which was known from the beginning, this we have heard, have seen with our own eyes, something we have touched, the Word who is Life, Jesus Christ our Lord, in the Eucharist. The bread has become his body, the wine has become his blood. What we eat and drink tonight, is the Lamb of God, who has done much more than that lamb whose blood was sprinkled on the doorposts of the Hebrews. What we eat and drink tonight is our salvation.
II. We must be humble servants.
A. Think how strong is our anger over Judas, who betrayed our Lord. Think how powerful our feelings over those who crucified him. Yet we have to be careful that we ourselves do not become guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ. His enemies put that Sacred Body to death, but we receive that body into our own. His face was struck, his back was whipped, his hands were nailed, he was slaughtered, but he mingles his Body with us in communion. And this is no pious thought. When we eat his Body and drink his Blood, we become the Body of Christ, we who are gathered here on this night to remember. We must be free of sin, we who claim to be his friends. How we are honored, at what a Table do we feast. Angels wish to receive what we receive and they cannot--only human beings receive the gift of the Eucharist. What we receive tonight is an honor, an honor we cannot hold lightly. There can be no Judas here tonight, no lover of silver, no lover of the darkness. Through our Lenten journey we have partaken in the Sacrament of Penance. And even though we are washed clean, yet we remain like Peter in tonight's Gospel, unsure about what we are to do, how we are to act.
B. If we do not want to be destroyed by our own darkness, by the confusion of shadows in us caused by our own sins, our own weaknesses, then we must put off our garments of pride, greed, selfishness, lust, anger, jealousy, and laziness and put on the apron of service. For the Body of Christ served others and healed others and forgave others, and we must do the same. The Blood of Christ redeemed, cleansed and saved people, and we must do the same. We must do as Jesus did. For we are his Body on earth, we are his blood. And what nourishes us is Christ himself in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
C. If you wish to see the Lord, come to the Eucharist. If you wish to touch the Body of Christ and be sprinkled with his Blood, come to the Eucharist. If you wish to serve as he has served, come to the Eucharist. For although it is the night, it is the night our redemption is near. Although it is the night, it is the night our salvation is at hand. Although it is the night, eternal life is near, for the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, will ransom us by his death, and save us forever, although it is the night.
The Celts, like most of humanity, were fascinated by the figure of Judas Iscariot. He plays on our worst fears--that we might definitively deny Christ--and we wonder if there was any redemption for him. He represents doubt, confusion, and ultimately betrayal. Spy Wednesday of Holy Week is called such because it is the culmination of the plot against Jesus that we hear in the biblical readings for the liturgy on Monday and Tuesday of Holy Week. These three days have Judas in the headlights, and so he is a fitting figure on which to meditate.
To help do this, I chose a hymn by Sydney Carter (d. 2004) called "Said Judas to Mary". Carter was an English folk musician whose most famous Church hymn is "Lord of the Dance". It's a good thing he was not a theologian for he would have been denounced as a heretic. Alternately close to his deep Christian upbringing as a child and the wayward currents of the '50's and 60's folk movement, he can be trying at times. But he was a genius and his poetry can be sublime and transmit truth. "Said Judas to Mary" has a definite Celtic background, and it is a powerful testament to the fickleness and faithlessness of Judas and the enduring power and mercy of the Christ. I find it beautiful, and because it sums up the confusion and hope of the first three days of Holy Week, I hope you find it worthy of a listen and a prayer. Enjoy. I sing this as a solo on Holy Wednesday at morning Mass and the choir sings it as a meditation on Holy Thursday at the Mass of the Lord's Supper. A blessed Holy Week to all!
READINGS: ISAIAH 50:4-7; PHILIPPIANS 2:6-11; MATTHEW 26:14-27:66
I. The Importance of Stories
A. Grandpa and Grandma told stories for the whole evening and the kids thought that was really neat for the first hour or so, but later they began to fidget and they began to nod off and fall asleep and when mom took them up to bed they asked her, "Why did we have to listen to those stories all night long from Grandma and Grandpa?" And their mother said to them, "If we don't tell the stories, you will never know where you came from; if we don't tell the stories, you will never know where you're going." And she signed them on the forehead with the sign of the cross and kissed them goodnight.
B. Every time we reach this time of year and we stand for this long Passion story, it goes through our minds why we do that. But the answer is the same one that was given to the children who questioned why Grandma and Grandpa told those tales: If we don't tell the story, we won't know why we're here.
II. The Meaning Of The Story
A. All through Lent, you’ve probably been thinking, "You know we’ve talked a lot about sin." Is that right? Have we really talked a lot about sin? Yes, especially this Lent, we have talked a lot about sin. Hopefully, we haven’t spoken about it so that everybody is feeling awfully guilty, but we did speak of sin this Lent because so often we look at ourselves and see our inability to do the good; and we see that we are unable to walk the path of Christ--perfectly; and we see that left to our own devices, we are weak and often we choose the darkness. Look around us--in our neighborhood, our city, our country, our world-- see the violence and the war– can anyone deny that there is sin? That's why we talk about it and that's why this Holy Week is so important to us.
B. You see, if we don't have a sense of sin, if we aren't aware of our tremendous need to be redeemed, then what Jesus did on the cross doesn't touch our lives, because what do we need the cross for? If we don't need to be redeemed, if we don't need to be lifted up from our weakness and sin, what do we need Jesus for? He went into Jerusalem, on this day, knowing he was going to die. He went into Jerusalem, on this day, knowing he was going to give his life as a ransom for the many. He begins this Holy Week asking us, "Will you walk with me?" We will only want to walk with him if we feel we need him, if we feel we need redemption. As we begin Holy Week, walk with Jesus. Don't let this week be a normal week, because it's not, it's the holiest week of the year, when we tell the story of our faith.
C. Put yourselves into the story of Holy Week; identify with the characters; imagine what it must have been like; pray to Christ to benefit from this holy time of year. If you are a Simon of Cyrene, take up your cross and follow Christ. If you are crucified beside him like one of the thieves, now, like the good thief, acknowledge your God. For your sake, Jesus died. Enter paradise with Christ and discover how far you have fallen in this life and how far he wishes to lift you up. Contemplate the glories there, and leave the other scoffing thief to die outside in his blasphemy. If you are Joseph of Arimathea, go to the one who ordered his crucifixion and ask for Christ’s body. If you are a Nicodemus, like the man who worshiped God by night, bring spices and prepare Christ’s body for burial. If you are one of the Marys, or Salome, or Joanna, weep in the early morning. Be the first to see the stone rolled back, and even the angels perhaps, and behold Christ the Risen Lord himself.
D. In your calendars, pencil in Holy Thursday and Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday and plan to come to the Masses and the services that we offer. You won't regret it. You will feel what you have never felt before. You will walk with Jesus and he will set you free. Remember, unless we tell the stories, we won't know where we came from; unless we tell the stories, we won't know where we're going. We come from sin, we need to be redeemed, so that we can live forever. Come to church this Holy Week, come to church and experience salvation.
***II, B and C , grateful acknowledgement to St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oratio 45,23-25: PG 56, 654-655
READINGS: EZEKIEL 37:12-14; ROMANS 8:8-11; JOHN 11:1-45
I. The Price Of Love
A. People have trouble figuring out that love has consequences. Far from being a freeing experience, love ties us with bonds that constrain, limit our freedom. If we love someone or something, we have to die to something else. If you love your wife or husband, then you cannot love another woman or man because all loves demand fidelity. You have to die to extra-marital relationships. This goes the same if you love something evil. If you love sex for sex's sake, or power for power's sake, or possessions for themselves alone, then you are really forced to be faithful to that love. In these cases, you must die to lasting relationships, die to compassion, die to your integrity.
B. Love is not freeing--it actually limits us; it locks us in to giving ourselves to another person or another thing. That's great if what we love is good; enslaving if what we love is evil. If we start loving something that is evil--gossip, jealous anger, etc. we soon find ourselves locked into a bad habit, and doing good becomes very hard. We are caught in the trap of sin.
II. The Love Of Sin Is In Our Blood
A. From our Scripture readings this Lent, we know we have a weakness to sin--we are drawn by its seeming pleasures to love what it has to offer. Adam and Eve loved forbidden knowledge, loved the idea of having power over God. The woman at the well found herself caught in a life-style of exchanging one man for another. The Israelites in the desert hated to give up their slavery in Egypt and actually enjoyed complaining and whining, they actually enjoyed their misery more than the God who had freed them.
B. We see that when we love sin, we are enslaved to sin, for it demands we give up all that is good and true and beautiful: the adulterer gives up a family and a marriage for pleasure; the power-hungry politician gives up personal integrity; the neighborhood gossip and complainer gives up the ability to take joy in life and other people. If we love sin, we have to give up the good.
C. Jesus spent his life teaching us how to love the good. He knew that there was in each human being the drive to choose either the Light or the darkness. For instance, he gave the woman at the well a taste of the truth and she left her former life to follow him. He cured the blind man's physical blindness, but also cured his spiritual blindness. Now the man could see in the world and see that Jesus could light up his soul. Today, Jesus shows he has power over sin's greatest weapon--death. When we are enslaved to sin, things die--relationships, our dreams, our hope. Jesus offers us the chance to break that slavery. Lazarus is dead; Lazarus is raised. Actually, Jesus offers us more than a choice; he actually forces us to choose. The Scriptures point out clearly that once the people witnessed the raising of Lazarus they had to make up their minds about Jesus. You were either for him or against him.
D. The reason why this story is so powerful is that Jesus did this miracle within earshot of Jerusalem. All his enemies knew about it. In fact, some of them probably were there. Before, they could just ignore him. Now, he had done something spectacular. They were forced to choose. Either he was what he said he was: the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Lord of Glory, God himself; or he was a fraud, a charlatan, a fake, a crazy person. Either you followed him or you rejected him. There was a dead man standing alive at the edge of a tomb and you had to accept that as fact or completely dismiss Christ. The raising of Lazarus was Jesus' challenge to the people--"I am who I say I am. Are you with me or against me?" Such a dramatic miracle, and yet people rejected Christ precisely on the basis of that miracle. Why?
III. The Point
A. If you want to love Jesus, then you have to realize that some things will simply have to be given up. If you accept Christ, you will have to reject other things. If you accept Christ, you will have to change your life. Some people back then, and many of us now cannot accept that fidelity to Jesus means we must reject much of what the world says is okay. Fidelity to Jesus means no gossip, no slander, no abuse of family or relatives, no extra-marital affairs, no pre-marital sex, no worship of money , no prejudice. Love has costs. And in our society which does not greatly value Christianity, chances are you will have to deprive yourself of pleasures and so-called fun that the rest of society says is okay but which is not consistent with your love of Christ.
B. The point of this homily is this: Accepting Christ means rejecting sin. Lazarus stands at the tomb raised to life! He was dead; now he lives because of Jesus! Do you believe that Christ could do that? If so, follow him. If not, realize that you choose to be with Christ's enemies. Love has consequences, and today we must choose to be for Christ or against him.
READINGS: I SAMUEL 15:1,6-7,10-13; EPHESIANS 5:8-14; JOHN 9:1-41
I. Spiritual Sight
A. Have trouble seeing? Need glasses? Then you are not going to have any difficulty understanding this Gospel.
B. The weaknesses of our body are similar to the weaknesses in our souls–we are not perfect. Good we have been made, but we are weak because of sin. No one has 20/20 spiritual vision–sin has blurred our sight, and it is hard to see the right path. We need spiritual glasses, or a spiritual guide so that we can walk in goodness and light.
C. To see God, we must pray to God. Even a prophet, like Samuel in the first reading, can make mistakes. He thinks Jesse’s oldest son should be king–but Samuel is also practiced in prayer. He can speak to God, and God immediately lets him know who to pick: "Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart." Samuel is corrected, he opens himself up to the presence of God, and through Samuel, God chooses David, the youngest but also the greatest. Only when we are in tune with God could he make the right decision. To see God, we must pray to God.
D. To see God, we must be with God. Paul writes to the Ephesians and says that by ourselves, we are in darkness, but because of what Christ did for us, we are in the light of the Lord. And because we are children of light, we are able to do deeds of goodness, truth and justice. Only when we are in tune with God can we do deeds of goodness. To see God, we must be with God.
E. To see God, we must accept Jesus. Jesus feels the people are not seeing right; even when they think they see, they do not. He will give sight and point out the blindness, the error, the sin of those who think they really have a self-righteous idea of what it means to be good. Jesus healed the blind man’s eyes, but also his heart. Now the man knows who is the Son of God. Being in tune with God, seeing the Light, means letting Jesus in our hearts. To see God we must accept Jesus.
II. What Do We Have To Do To Get Spiritual Sight, How Do We See God, Be With God, Accept Jesus?
A. We cannot walk through this world alone; we will die in darkness if we do. Jesus is the only one who can give us light. We have to open windows of souls if we wish to get rid of darkness.
B. How? By inviting Jesus into areas of our lives we would rather not have him see. Some examples are: sexual areas, anger, drug/alcohol abuse, job areas; in other words, any area of life where we know things are going wrong.
C. How does one invite Jesus into a difficult area of life?
1. Set aside 15 minutes to pray.
2. Say your favorite prayer.
3. Then, realize that Jesus is at your side, in the center of your soul–this works especially well in the Eucharist.
4. Begin talking to him, describe the problem, the darkness, your inability to deal with it.
5. Ask God to give you help, to enlighten you–put yourself in God’s hands.
6. Then pause for a while–listen, be in the presence of God. Now God might speak in ways you can understand, he might be silent, but he will be there.
7. Finish with your favorite prayer.
D. What’s The Result?
1. Perhaps you will receive an answer, a way out of the dilemma, an insight into the darkness you are facing, a new way of looking at your problem.
2. But perhaps there will be silence. Then you must rest in this knowledge: Jesus did not cure all the blind people in Israel; he only cured some. Maybe you too will have to walk in darkness.
3. But this we know–even though Jesus did not cure everyone, he did give strength to whomever wanted it, he did offer to be a guide to whomever wanted him. If after all your praying, you are still in darkness, then know that by abandoning yourself into God’s hands you are asking Christ to walk with you. You may still be in darkness, but Christ will be there to give you strength, to guide you. He will lead you out of darkness, he will help you act properly, he will not let you down.
4. Answers are real possible with this type of prayer, but answer or not you will receive the strength that will help you cope.
E. Summary: To walk in the light of Christ simply say a prayer, image Jesus, talk about the darkness, surrender, listen, and pray. Then like the blind man we will say "I do believe in you, Jesus; you are my Lord and Savior."